"I had a warrant out for my arrest -- for LFOs that I didn't even know I had. I lost my children. I lost my Section 8 housing . . . . I was shattered. So I just slipped right back into addiction for the next seven or eight years. I didn't know what else to do."
Born to two heroin addicts who also sold drugs, Traci's childhood was defined by uncertainty and trauma. She recalls, as a child, hiding with her brothers as police raided their home looking for her parents. In her teens, she moved around from foster home to foster home. She lost count after 13 homes. In her late teens, she started selling heroin to support herself, which at the time seemed perfectly normal to her, given her upbringing.
Following a conviction, for which she served no time, Traci was arrested and spent 58 days in jail for failure to pay her LFOs. No judge. No lawyer. At that time, she was denied access to counsel because her failure to pay was considered violation of her parole. Those 58 days in jail caused her to lose her section 8 housing and custody of her two children.
Today, Traci dedicates her life to serving others, working three jobs. She pays $25/mo towards her LFOs. Although she was sentenced to pay $800 in LFOs, due to the interest, she now owes $3,544.
In Traci's Own Words . . .
on legal financial obligations . . .
"My daughter was 18 months old, and one day . . . I was on Section 8 housing, working at the Air Force base part time. Just kinda living my life in my little apartment with my two kiddos and one day my son. . . . I had called the school and told them have him walk home and apparently they didn’t get the message so he’s not home after school and I’m freaking out. I’m going to friends, neighborhoods, freaking out. Finally, something said just go by the school and I see him in a white car. Well, I know that white car well, it's CPS [child-protective services]. So the message didn’t get delivered and then apparently I had a warrant out for my arrest -- for LFOs that I didn’t even know I had. They sentenced me to 75 days and with good time I did 58. I lost my children. I lost my section 8 housing. And went right back into my addiction for the next seven or eight years."
Upon her second conviction, she served about two years in prison. When she got out: "My Mom paid them [her LFOs) for the first few months. Because it was always a big deal because you could go to jail. My parole officer . . . he broke my problem with authority, if that makes sense. He was not helpful at all but it did break my problem with authority. “If you don’t pay your LFOs, you are going to jail.” So whatever I could do. . . .
I think it was $20 bucks per month or something like that. I just made it a point to pay them. I always paid them. The only time I didn’t pay them was after I bought this house. . . . It slipped my mind. I started paying them again. And then I get this letter.
Only $200 left in interest. And get this letter from clerk’s office. Threatening jail time. Or case collection. Or issue a bench warrant. March 29, 2016. I paid off the principal a long time ago, like years. This letter came out of the blue.
The original was $800 and now I owe $3,544.86. I’d rather pay one dollar for the rest of my life than stand in front of a judge again. I can pay online for an extra seven dollars.
It doesn’t seem consistent or fair. I’m not saying to not pay for our mistakes but why are we having to pay such outlandish interest rates and be thrown in jail? It’s directly against our Constitution to throw people in jail for debt. I don’t understand. I don’t understand.
I think the system is set up for you to fail. Tell me where there is a win-win situation in this in all of it . It is so convoluted and messed up. Every county does things differently and they extend it another ten years.
You can’t even get your rights back. First you have to pay everything.
How is that helping a formerly incarcerated person to be a productive member of society when you get letters like this? Going to jail for $200 in interest. It takes a pretty strong person to not fall victim to that, to this rat race. Because this could throw someone over the edge. You can go to jail like I did and lose everything. Everything. It’s horrible, horrible. It impacts me every day."
"I was born to heroin addicts. So my childhood was a lot of survival. My parents were checked out – emotionally, really deep into the drug world. So it was my job at a young age, . . . I remember grocery shopping at 8 for my twin brother and my younger brother. That was my job to take care of them.
People come in with guns, and tie us up. And then the police come in with shotguns to your face.
As I got older, I remember one day thinking . . . what? Everybody’s parents didn’t sell drugs and not talk about it? I really felt that was normal.
So, it was tough. Several foster homes. I lost count after 13. My mom ended up going to prison when I was in high school.
At 18, I moved back into my mom’s family home because she was just getting out of prison in Seattle. I did ok. I never, I wasn’t into drugs or anything like that. It was more work a day job but sell drugs at night. So I wasn’t actively using. That was the lifestyle I grew up in. My mom was a master manipulator. I loved her to death but she knew how to work the systems. So that is what I was taught. I know that sounds naïve but I didn’t know that it was wrong until somebody pointed it out to me later on. It was my norm."